Reza Aslan in Waugh’s Wood
It is not every day that an article delights you as Alexander Waugh’s article delighted me when I read it one relaxing evening. That evening, honestly, was a stressed filled one, but Waugh’s article was a good palliative. In his article, in The Spectator, Waugh gives us a circus display of vulgar criticisms of Islam. Let us romp in Waugh’s wood.
“Reza Aslan doesn’t fear God. But should he fear his fellow Muslims?” (4th Nov, 2017) is an article that tries to lampoon Reza Aslan. What reason should Aslan be afraid of “his fellow Muslims?” Waugh’s answer is in header directly under the title: “The sort of pantheism he preaches is far from congenial to certain sub-sects of Islam”. The vacuity of this answer hardly needs to be pointed out, but pointed out it must be. In any religion any doctrine you hold will undoubtedly be “far from congenial to certain sub-sects” of that religion. Are you a Protestant? Then Catholicism won’t be congenial to you. Waugh’s words, though lacking in content, has effect. This effect is pulled off by the supposition that only fanatics make up the “sub-sects” of Islam.
Waugh’s article is supposed to be a review of Aslan’s latest book “God: A Human History”. Yet he ends up mocking Aslan in a very…well, you will see yourself. The article opens by attempting to discredit Aslan’s scholarly credentials. Aslan is not a serious scholar, Waugh says, because he ate human brains. With that logic, J. D. Salinger is not a novelist because he used to regularly drink his own urine.
Aslan famously faced off Lauren Green on Fox News in what has been termed the “Worst Ever Interview” (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_0UkKHy1U4&t=69s).
In Waugh’s wood, Green was right while Aslan was wrong. Aslan says he is a historian. He has written books on the history of Islam and Christianity. Yet Waugh says he isn’t a historian. Aslan says he has a PHD in the history of religions. Waugh points out that Aslan actually has a “doctor of sociology”. Waugh doesn’t tell us why this is. Aslan started out with a PHD in religion but, after publishing his book “No god but God,” his Professors and fellow students stopped talking to him, because they didn’t like his writing on Islam. Life became “miserable” for Aslan to the point he had to switch the Department of Sociology to continue his research (see:http://www.scienceandreligiontoday.com/2010/05/28/reza-aslan-on-the-academy/) Talk about academic intolerance.
Also, we can all agree that Mark Juergensmayer is more qualified than Waugh to determine what is scholarly and what is not (see:http://www.patheos.com/blogs/accordingtomatthew/2015/08/stop-calling-reza-aslan-a-fraud-and-learn-how-academia-works/).
Recently Aslan was fired from CNN for calling Trump a “piece of shit” . CNN promised to continue Aslan’s TV series “Believer” but then told him to leave after CNN became intimidated by Right-Wing pressure (see: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/12/reza-aslan-interview-cnn-trump-podcast). This example of media silencing of critical voices is welcomed by Waugh.
Waugh’s actual commentary on Aslan’s new book lacks any substance. He ridicules Aslan’s for trying to found a new religion (!?) and ends his article by quoting a verses of the Quran to show Muslim blood lust. Unfortunately for Waugh, Muslims actually read the Quran and anyone reading his citation can see how ridiculous his cut-and-paste job is. This is what Waugh cited (Quran 33:57-61):
“Those who annoy Allah and his Messenger shall have a curse on them: and whenever they are found, shall be seized and slain without mercy”.
Now let me cite the verses within their textual context:
Indeed, those who persecute Allah and His Messenger – Allah has cursed them in this world and the Hereafter and prepared for them a humiliating punishment.
And those who persecute believing men and believing women for [something] other than what they have earned have certainly born upon themselves a slander and manifest sin.
O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.
If the hypocrites and those in whose hearts is disease and those who spread rumors in al-Madinah do not cease, We will surely incite you against them; then they will not remain your neighbors therein except for a little.
Accursed wherever they are found, [being] seized and killed completely.
Verse 57 uses the Arabic word Yu’thoona which means ‘to cause pain,’ ‘to persecute,’ ‘to inflict torment’, ‘to abuse’. It doesn’t mean “annoy,” and translators who translate the word as “annoy” do so out of ignorance of the Arabic language. Verse 58 refers to a group of hypocrites who claimed Muhammad’s wife was a cuckold. Verse 59 gives evidence to prove the innocence of Muhammad’s family. Verse 60 refers to a coup d’etat that was being planned in Medina where the former lords of Medina planned to overthrow Muhammad by discrediting him with lies and their attempt to kill him. Reading these verses, do we see any relation to it and to Reza Aslan?
In Waugh’s wood no intellectual nuance is allowed. Reza Aslan has written on Islam and religions, giving fresh perspectives on how to understand Islam and religiosity. Even if you do not not believe in Islam or religion you surely are obliged to uphold the standards of academic rigor in discussing it. Just because I do not believe Jesus was God doesn’t mean I can abandon objectivity and scholarly standards in my discussion of Christianity. Moreover, Waugh’s wood is a no-go zone for Muslims. No Muslim, no matter his views, is allowed to live peacefully in the wood. By ridiculing Aslan, does Waugh actually think he is helping in combat Muslim radicalism? If Muslims who have a non-radical view of Islam are not even taken seriously, will young Muslims be expected to take them seriosuly? Waugh’s wood consists of a polarity of either Vulgar Anti-Muslims or Muslim terrorists. There is no space for Muslims like Aslan or, to be frank, the millions of ordinary Muslims who do not fit in this binary forest.
Though Azlan is a Christian fiction, Aslan is a Muslim fact He is an intellectual that fuses post-modernity with Islam and he deserves to be listened to, not mocked.